Take a journey to historical London with Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s regional premiere of Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti. In this endlessly captivating story, drama arises beyond the stage when a famous actor’s talents are masked by the color of his skin. Based on the true story of Ira Aldridge, Red Velvet showcases the enduring power of the arts to push boundaries. Playing March 6 – March 31, 2018.
To learn more about Ira Aldridge, Othello, and abolition inspired by artists, stop by The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to check out the following titles:
NONFICTION | Ira Aldridge and the History of African American Theatre
Ira Aldridge: the Negro tragedian by Herbert Marshall and Mildred Stock
On March 25, 1833, celebrated English actor Edmund Kean collapsed on stage at Covent Garden while playing the role of Othello and died shortly thereafter. Young Ira Aldridge, an American-born black actor, replaced Edmund Kean in the role of the Moor. Suddenly, members of the press were up in arms, and a real-life drama escalated with all of London the stage. Aldridge had come to London from New York City at age seventeen, and for eight years had performed in the English provinces. In April 1833, he stood at the very heart of the Empire, the beloved Covent Garden. Thrust out after only two performances, he was catapulted (in a wonderfully ironic twist of fate) onto a world stage that included all of Europe and Russia. He would eventually return to conquer London, decked with medals of distinction.
The long-neglected story of black Shakespearian actors in the nineteenth and twentieth-century America and Europe is fully divulged in Shakespeare and Sable. The book charts the struggle of Afro-American actors first as exiles, then at home in the United States where some finally achieve recognition for their talents as Shakespeare performers in a racially prejudiced society. From the landmark performances of Aldridge, Robeson, Hyman, Jones, Dee, White and others to the multi-racial experiments of Joseph Papp in the 1970s, this text balances all of these subjects with judicious reflection on social and political influences. Elegantly told with an ease and wit worthy of the subject matter, a fascinating history of high artistic standards, professional ambition, tragic disappointments, hapless coincidence and personal victories emerges.
African-American Performance and Theater History: a critical reader edited by Harry J. Elam, Jr., David Krasner
African-American Performance and Theatre History is an anthology of critical writings that explores the intersections of race, theater, and performance in America. Assembled by two respected scholars in black theater and composed of essays from acknowledged authorities in the field (Joseph Roach and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. among others), this volume is organized into four sections representative of the ways black theater, drama, and performance past and present interact and enact continuous social, cultural, and political dialogues. The premise behind the book is that analyzing African-American theater and performance traditions offers insight into how race has operated and continues to operate in American society. The only one-volume collection of its kind, this volume is a central reference for those studying black theater.
The A to Z of African American Theater by Anthony D. Hill with Douglas Q. Barnett
The A to Z of African American Theater celebrates nearly 200 years of black theater in the United States, identifying representative African American theater-producing organizations and chronicling their contributions to the field from its birth in 1816 to the present. This is done through a chronology, an introductory essay, a bibliography, and over 500 cross-referenced dictionary entries on actors, directors, playwrights, plays, theater producing organizations, themes, locations, and theater movements and awards.
FICTION | Inspired by Shakespeare
Dom Casmurro by Joachim Maria Machado de Assis, translated from the Portuguese by John Gledson
Dom Casmurro follows the extraordinary love story between Bento and Capitu, childhood sweethearts who grow up next door to each other in Rio de Janeiro in the 1850s. Like other great nineteenth century novels, this book explores the themes of marriage and adultery. But what distinguishes Machado’s novel from the realism of its contemporaries, and what makes it such a delightful discovery for English-speaking readers, is its eccentric and wildly unpredictable narrative style. Far from creating the illusion of an orderly fictional “reality,” Dom Casmurro is told by a narrator who is disruptively self-conscious, deeply subjective, and prone to all manner of marvelous digression. As he recounts the events of his life from the vantage of a lonely old age, Bento continually interrupts his story to reflect on the writing of it. It is a story about love and its obstacles, about deception and self-deception, and about the failure of memory to make life’s beginning fit neatly into its end. First published in 1900, Dom Casmurro is one of the great unrecognized classics of the turn of the century by one of Brazil’s greatest writers. It offers English-speaking readers a literary genius of the rarest kind.
New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
Tracy Chevalier brings Shakespeare’s harrowing drama of jealousy and revenge to a 1970s era elementary school playground. Arriving at his fifth school in as many years, diplomat’s son Osei Kokote knows he needs an ally if he is to survive his first day – so he’s lucky to hit it off with Dee, the most popular girl in school. But one student can’t stand to witness this budding relationship: Ian decides to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again. The tragedy of Othello is transposed to a 1970s suburban Washington schoolyard, where kids fall in and out of love with each other before lunchtime, and practice a casual racism picked up from their parents and teachers. Peeking over the shoulders of four 11 year olds, Tracy Chevalier’s powerful drama of friends torn apart by jealousy, bullying, and betrayal will leave you reeling.
I, Iago by Nicole Galland
The critically acclaimed author of The Fool’s Tale, Nicole Galland, now approaches William Shakespeare’s classic drama of jealousy, betrayal, and murder from the opposite side. I, Iago is an ingenious, brilliantly crafted novel that allows one of literature’s greatest villains (the deceitful schemer Iago from the Bard’s immortal tragedy Othello) to take center stage in order to reveal his “true” motivations. This is Iago as you’ve never known him, his past and influences breathtakingly illuminated in a fictional reexamination that explores the eternal question: is true evil the result of nature versus nurture, or something even more complicated?
HISTORY | Abolition in Britain and the Americas
The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation by David Brion Davis
David Brion Davis is one of the foremost historians of the twentieth century, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Bancroft Prize, and nearly every award given by the historical profession. Now, with The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation, Davis brings his staggeringly ambitious, prizewinning trilogy on slavery in Western culture to a close. Winner of the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction, shortlisted for the 2014 Cundill Prize in Historical Literature, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation original and penetrating insights into what slavery and emancipation meant to Americans. This is a monumental and harrowing undertaking following the century of struggle, rebellion, and warfare that led to the eradication of slavery in the new world. An in-depth investigation, a rigorous colloquy of ideas, ranging from Frederick Douglass to Barack Obama, from British industrial “wage slavery” to the Chicago World’s Fair, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation is a brilliant conclusion to one of the great works of American history. Above all, Davis captures how America wrestled with demons of its own making, and moved forward.
Bury the Chains: prophets and rebels in the fight to free an empire’s slaves by Adam Hochschild
From the author of the prize-winning King Leopold’s Ghost comes a taut, thrilling account of the first grass-roots human rights campaign, which freed hundreds of thousands of slaves around the world. In 1787, twelve men gathered in a London printing shop to pursue a seemingly impossible goal: ending slavery in the largest empire on earth. Along the way, they would pioneer most of the tools citizen activists still rely on today, from wall posters and mass mailings to boycotts and lapel pins. This talented group combined a hatred of injustice with uncanny skill in promoting their cause. Within five years, more than 300,000 Britons were refusing to eat the chief slave-grown product, sugar; London’s smart set was sporting antislavery badges created by Josiah Wedgwood; and the House of Commons had passed the first law banning the slave trade. However, the House of Lords, where slavery backers were more powerful, voted down the bill. But the crusade refused to die, fueled by remarkable figures like Olaudah Equiano, a brilliant ex-slave who enthralled audiences throughout the British Isles; John Newton, the former slave ship captain who wrote “Amazing Grace”; Granville Sharp, an eccentric musician and self-taught lawyer; and Thomas Clarkson, a fiery organizer who repeatedly crisscrossed Britain on horseback, devoting his life to the cause. He and his fellow activists brought slavery in the British Empire to an end in the 1830s, long before it died in the United States. The only survivor of the printing shop meeting half a century earlier, Clarkson lived to see the day when a slave whip and chains were formally buried in a Jamaican churchyard. Bury the Chains abounds in atmosphere, high drama, and nuanced portraits of unsung heroes and colorful villains. Again Hochschild gives a little-celebrated historical watershed its due at last.
The Culture of English Antislavery, 1780-1860 by David Turley
The Culture of English Antislavery, 1780-1860 provides a fresh overall account of organised antislavery by focusing on the active minority of abolutionists throughout the country. The analysis of their culture of reform demonstrates the way in which alliances of diverse religious groups roused public opinion and influenced political leaders. The resulting definition of the distinctive “reform mentality” links antislavery to other efforts at moral and social improvement and highlights its contradictory relations to the social effects of industrialization and the growth of liberalism.
MOVIES | Othello on Screen
Omkara directed by Vishal Bharadwaj (2006)
This award-winning Indian crime drama follows one man’s descent into sexual jealousy because of his passionate love for his woman, leading to the final destruction of that love at the altar of blind obsession.
Othello, directed by Orson Welles, 1951
A slimmed down adaption of Shakespeare’s text, Desdemona, daughter of a Venetian aristocrat, elopes with Moorish military hero Othello, to the great envy of Iago. Alas, Iago knows Othello’s weakness, and with chilling malice works on him. Directed and starring Orson Welles, this award-winning drama was shot over three years in Venice, Morocco, and Rome.
Othello, directed by Oliver Parker (1995)
Played previously in black face on film by actors Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier, actor Oliver Parker’ Othello is the first major cinematic production to cast an African-American in the title role. Parker’s directorial debut with this adaptation of the tragic play by William Shakespeare abridges the original text and adds modern intrigue. Laurence Fishburne stars as the Moorish general Othello, who returns a hero after crushing an invasion attempt by the Turkish army near Cyprus. Pledged to marry the lovely Desdemona (Irene Jacob), Othello ignores the advice of his intended’s father, who tells him that she may have a deceptive nature. Othello’s aide Iago (Kenneth Branagh), jealous over the elevation of his rival Cassio (Nathaniel Parker) to lieutenant, begins scheming to make Othello believe that Desdemona and Cassio are carrying on an affair.